The Hilsea businessman had been looking forward to the New York holiday he booked through the online travel agent last October.
But his expectations were quickly dashed just a few days later when he was called to say the holiday was cancelled and the £797 for the trip would be refunded.
He was just one of thousands of Lastminute.com customers who’d found it impossible to conceal their anger and disgust when they tried to discover why they were being deliberately blanked after they’d asked for their share of the millions owed to them in cancellation refunds.
Ian, 68, told Streetwise his mind-blowing saga with the firm started from the word go when he searched the internet to jet off for a break to the big apple to celebrate a birthday bash with a friend and family.
He said: ‘I booked online because I’ve not really ever done this sort of thing before, and it was just one of those that came up from the website.
‘Then the business with the pandemic kicked in and without any prompting they sent an email offering a refund.
‘But trying to get in touch with anybody to find out what was happening and when I’d get paid was impossible.
‘I made numerous phone calls and drew a complete blank. You could never speak to anyone at the company, only a recorded instruction to check your account.
‘All you were told every time you called or tried to email for more information about the refund status was that it’s being processed, and you’ll receive another email soon.
‘I looked up the loads of people complaining on the Lastminute.com Facebook page, but that didn’t get them anywhere either.’
Ian rightly believed that under the Package Travel and Linked Travel Regulations 2018, as his holiday package had been cancelled, he was legally entitled to chase up a full no quibble 14-day refund.
Understandably he’d became increasingly annoyed at the firm’s tactics of constantly claiming the refund was imminent, but kicking the can down the road every time he tried to find out when he would receive the cash.
Then at the end of January there was an encouraging development. After months of breaking the rules on refunds, the firm was investigated by the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA).
At the time of the CMA’s intervention, they owed £7m to more than 9,000 customers in refunds for holidays cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Following the investigation and the threat of being taken to court, Lastminute.com finally caved in, agreeing to pay almost 50,000 customers all the pre-December outstanding package holiday refunds for the trips by 31st January 2021.
After months struggling with their communication blackout, Ian dared to breathe a sigh of relief that an end of his ordeal was in sight.
However, despite the welcome news the repayment deadline came and went, leaving him stunned and convinced that he’d seen the last of his money.
Fed up with the endless hassle trying to get his cash back, Ian called in Streetwise for help.
Our first port of call was Lastminute.com’s top bosses, chairman Fabio Cannavale, and chief operations officer Marco Corridino.
We emailed inviting them to look into Ian’s complaint and requested a response by deadline. When our request was ignored, we repeated the approach to their customer service team which also drew a blank.
In the meantime, we discovered that the company, despite the undertaking given to the CMA, still owed over £1m to 2,600 customers, of which Ian was clearly one.
Latminute.com’s managing director, Andrea Bertoli, blamed breaching the commitment to the CMA on the impact of the unforeseen third lockdown and Ryanair disrupting the refund process.
We got onto the regulator to express our concern at the dismissive way Ian had been treated for simply trying to assert his statutory rights.
A CMA spokesperson confirmed that they’d been assured by the firm any money outstanding was only owed to customers whose bank details were not held on file and they’d agreed to contact customers who hadn’t been refunded.
When we opted to provide the firm’s refund team with Ian’s bank account number we were astounded to discover they were still sending out the same responses that had drawn a blank months earlier.
As an alternative approach we advised him to contact his bank and apply to start a chargeback claim. However, because of Lastminute.com’s futile refund promises his application was promptly turned down as the 120-day deadline for chargeback claims had already been breached.
The breakthrough finally came when Streetwise drew another blank tracking down the company’s press office to ask them to investigate.
We finally ended up at their corporate HQ in Switzerland who promptly instructed a member of their communications team to respond to our exchange of emails with the CMA and establish why a furious Ian hadn’t been repaid.
Within a matter of hours, a spokesperson apologised for the delay and confirmed a member of their refund team had spoken to him and agreed a prompt resolution.
‘The system should have processed Mr Pickup’s request automatically,’ he explained, ‘but apparently it didn’t. We’ve now arranged to process the transaction manually and once we have his bank details the refund will be actioned as soon as possible.’
Four days later an ecstatic but relieved Ian emailed us to confirm the battle was finally over and the money was at last safely back in his account.
Ian said: ‘I have to take my hat off to you for fighting our corner against an unwilling company to play by the rules.
‘Without your assistance none of it would have been possible. We just couldn’t have done it without Streetwise and The News.’